The Evolution of a Mural Part 1

A strange phenomenon developed around my art ever since I graduated in 2004. I never felt like I had anything to “say.” For whatever reason, I started to put this unnecessary pressure on myself to be profoundly meaningful or political, at the very least ground breaking. It is somewhat similar to the intimidation stemming from the preciousness of a blank canvas or a new sketchbook. I wanted my art to be conceptually and technically sound in order to resonate beyond pretty colors and shapes. But if this was the cause for stifled creativity, then what was the point, right?

I needed to just get started. No rules, topic be damned…anything.

Everywhere I look, all I see is mash-ups. From people to music, religions and cultures, the lines are blurring all the time. And I love it! But some of those topics can get touchy for some so let’s stick to something everyone can relate to: food. Fusion restaurants, doughnut croissants, taco burritos, and ramen burgers. Whether you like it or not, the trend is only going up and there’s nothing you can do about it.

This is also super apparent in music. I’ve always loved the idea of sampling, layering, patterns and movement because there is a direct correlation between music and my art.

DJ Neil Armstrong is one of my all-time favorite DJs for his effortless weaving of soundbites from comedy hours to movies, original samples and new tunes. Anything is fair game so long as it made for a good mix.

One of my favorite mixes ever!

What does this all have to do with my art?

How could I seamlessly marry all my different interests and have them coexist in my very own visual mix?

At the beginning of this year, I decided to make a game for myself utilizing artificial encumbrances to my advantage. Each week, I would review my photos and use them as reference in creating a unique drawing. The goal was to have 52 illustrations by the end of the year akin to a visual diary. My art would stay current to our present location and activities, and my photos would be saved from hard drive purgatory.

I originally started to sketch in my black book with a pencil, but quickly realized that the iPad would be more flexible. Each individual drawing could be added to my archive for future use in new compositions.

Santiago preliminary sketch.

The result was a bit reminiscent of a surreal coloring book. And this format allowed for fresh, new content each week with the ability to backtrack once I was all caught up—whenever that would be.

Refined Santiago sketch completed on the iPad with ProCreate app.

One of the elements I ended up drawing in my very first compositions in Chile was french fries, but used out of context simply as a texture. And that really got me thinking. Although it would be more ideal to draw from life, I already had a growing pile of photos from all of our travels. Plus, those would be unique to our own perspective, which would inherently keep all aspects of the process my own. Maybe I could sample shapes out of context the way Neil did with his mixes. The abstractions are infinite and the combinations are endless. It was up to me to orchestrate a new visual song with a nod to our journeys.

In parallel to this inner strife (which has really been going on since junior year college), I was asked if I would be interested in creating a mural for our favorite co-working space in Honolulu! Sounds like a perfect opportunity to put this new practice to use in an actual commissioned piece!

KouWork Exterior.

Going through my Hawaiian travel photos brought back some amazing memories from otherworldly hikes to gluttonous plate lunches. Actually, there were tons of food pics so I naturally started to latch onto that topic. I combed through the pictures whilst salivating uncontrollably. Rendering a still life felt a bit tired and stale. Instead, I sampled select details, building it slowly until the drawing grew to fill the frame. The goal was to react to the art, freestyle a narrative and get lost in the process.

Certain moments worked out really well, but as with some improvisations, it’s not always one hundred. The drawings were fine, but the composition, not so much. Plus, I had run out of places to draw but had plenty of photos left to sift through.

This is why I love the iPad and ProCreate. With the ability to resize, reposition and rearrange each element placed on separate layers, I was able to fully redesign the piece with infinite flexibility. The elements were constant but could be edited and reedited into completely different remixes.

Early sketch for KouWork’s conference room mural.

Almost unexpectedly, there developed a debilitating bi-product of impermanence throughout the workflow. With so many options, it was easy to second guess every step of the process. I needed to quash my deliberation, trust in my decisions and respond to what the art wanted to do.

After getting the illustration to about 80% completion, it was time to start testing value and color. I definitely wanted to:

  • Have an area with subtle elements. I am always fascinated with how masters would include detailed foreground figures in shadow off to the edge of the frame, without neglecting any of the faint contrasts.
  • Explore depth through playful undulation in the third dimension, with a foreground, middle ground and background.
  • Give the feeling of space and vastness beyond the drawing. I’ve always loved how Inka Essenhigh achieved this in some of her earlier resin paintings a few decades ago.
  • Use a palette evocative of a quintessential Hawaiian beach: turquoise for white sand shallow shores, darker blues for deeper waters, greens for seaweed, a sort of beige to represent sand, and some warmth for the coral.

The final step was to create some photoshop mockups and hone in on the right crop.

Early work in progress mocked up in the space.

Luke and Lauren also requested to have “KouWork” included so long as it didn’t ruin the art; if it didn’t work, then I was told not to force it. With so much space in the z-axis, there was room to have their logo interweave with my drawing. I worked out a solution, ran it by L&L and they loved it even more than the drawing alone. Let’s get this thing started!

Work in progress test with KouWork logo.

The last virtual hurdle presented itself once it came time to choose the color swatches from Benjamin Moore’s sample books. There was an option to print the file and have them color match exactly. But, I wanted to tweak some things like the contrast, saturation and mood. The mockup felt a bit psychedelic and some of the color contrasts were slightly overdone. I quieted the value of the highlights and added saturation to make it more vibrant.

I learned so much about how a piece evolves from concept to reality. In the next post, learn more about the rollercoaster of emotions I experienced and how it all went down.

If you’re in Hawaii, come see the finished product over at KouWork. We will be having a pau hana from 5-7pm.

Otherwise, you can follow me on Instagram.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *